By Shaun Fagan
Every English-language learner (ELL) has their own unique, individual needs when it comes to gaining structural knowledge around communication. Among the main challenges they face when developing their language acquisition are:
• Density of unfamiliar vocabulary;
• Grammar usage, especially the “exceptions to the rules”;
• Use of regional U.S. dialects; and
• Fear of participation and interaction with other students.
Beyond structural language issues, ELLs face a bigger challenge: the variation in their educational backgrounds. When ELLs come to the U.S., they often bring with them different levels and types of past education. The significant challenge of meeting those various needs through curriculum and instructional design is best left to the experts—like you!—but there are a few simple steps you can take to make sure all that hard work is accessible to your students.
To meet ELLs’ specific needs, teachers and schools need lessons complete with clear instruction, modeled behavior, and consistent check-ins. Try using these three methods to incorporate ELL-specific lessons into your everyday curriculum.
1.) Clear instruction: The best way to know what you sound like during your lesson is to record yourself and listen back. ELLs need extra support in this area, and teachers can accommodate them by speaking slowly and clearly enough for everyone to understand. Did you know that if a teacher amplifies their voice by 5–15 decibels above ambient noise, it can improve articulation and enhance speech intelligibility?
2.) Modeling behavior: When educators model a lesson, they allow themselves the ability to go further into explaining the lesson’s expectations. They can start by using an audio system to elaborate exactly what it is they’re asking for, with step-by-step instructions, and can include visuals to help those who learn better that way. One easy way to model behavior is with the In-Flipped Classroom. You’ve heard of the flipped classroom, right? This approach is similar, except it allows students who don’t have access to the Internet at home the chance to watch recorded lessons in class. Why is this beneficial? Because students can now pause and learn at their own pace, with the extra help of the teacher by their side supporting them.
3.) Student evaluations: Every school has its own set of student-teacher conferences, but to keep every student on the right track, it’s important to always be checking in on their progress. Keep the conversation going year-round with weekly or monthly check-ins that introduce new skills during or after a lesson, or when you notice a student struggling.
Next time you’re thinking of how to cater your lessons to those who are learning a new language, try putting yourself in their shoes. An ELL teacher of more than 21 years surveyed her ELL students and asked them what they wish their teachers knew about them. Their top responses? They want teachers who are patient, who hold them accountable, who talk to them, and remember that they are intelligent.